Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Facebook, emotions, and identity

The social network and teen emotional health

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called "Does Facebook make us sad?" A brilliantly-titled piece on Switched.com, "Facebook Makes Us All Sad Because Everyone Is Happy But Us," inspired me to think about my own experience using Facebook as well as the impact of the social networking site on our relationships off-line.

In the weeks since, I've seen quite a bit of media coverage of Facebook's impact on psychological health. One piece, written by my friend Stacey Shackford for the Cornell Chronicle, examined research being done at Cornell on Facebook's positive influence on college students' self-esteem. Another, an AP piece by Lindsey Tanner, says there might be such a thing as "Facebook depression" experienced by some teens.

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The Cornell study (very small sample size, all college students) found that when students spent time scrolling down their Facebook walls, looking not only at what they had posted, but at their friends' responses, they had increased self-esteem. Students who edited their Facebook profiles while the study was taking place reported the highest levels of self-esteem.

As I said in my post a few weeks ago and as Dr. Gwenn O'Keeffe says in the AP piece, Facebook only presents self-selected information. When we build our profiles and comment on friends' status messages, we make conscious choices about how to construct an online identity.

It makes sense, then, that when we're constructing the best versions of ourselves and getting positive feedback about it, we feel good.

For teens who are vulnerable to depression, however, says the AP article, Facebook can be "a particularly tough social landscape to navigate."

"Facebook is where all the teens are hanging out now. It's their corner store," O'Keeffe says. Facebook can be the online version of the locker room, school hallway, or bus stop, too, with all of the good, fun things that go on, but all of the negative, too.

For teens who have less experience figuring out social cues, don't think they have cool stuff to post, don't get positive virtual feedback from friends, or who are actively bullied online, Facebook is just another place to feel bad about themselves.

For two years, I've been writing about social media, particularly how social media can help or hurt suicide prevention efforts. (You can read my first post here.) I think it's great that the ubiquity of Facebook is being addressed by academic researchers and the American Academy of Pediatrics, who now have their own set of social media guidelines authored by O'Keeffe. I'm looking forward to seeing more academic research and data on social media as well as others who have a stake in the healthy development of youth and teens broaching this issue. What about you?

Copyright 2011 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, M.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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